Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Most new COVID-19 infections found among factory workers

Garment workers leave a factory after finishing their work, in Phnom Penh, June 2, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Garment workers leave a factory after finishing their work, in Phnom Penh, June 2, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Across Cambodia, officials said that most new cases of COVID-19 have been found among garment workers, underscoring the poor living and working conditions faced by Cambodia’s factory workers. 

In Phnom Penh, “most of the infections are in Kambol, Pur Senchey and Stung Meanchey districts,” said Ngy Mean Heng, director of Phnom Penh Health Department, referring to areas with high concentrations of factories and worker housing.

Infections are high “in districts on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and it is complicated by living [conditions],” said deputy Phnom Penh governor Keut Chhe.

Chhe noted that many workers share housing, with four or five people living in a small rental room, and that they travel to and from factories on crowded trucks. He urged workers to stay home and quarantine if they fall ill.

“Someone who is absent from the workplace, they need to report to the authority immediately because [authorities] can do contact tracing for them,” Chhe said.

He said the authorities have been disseminating information to factories and workers, including providing rapid COVID-19 tests for workers.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported 750 new cases of COVID-19. While Cambodia saw a dip in infections following lockdowns of Phnom Penh, Takhmao City and Sihanoukville, the numbers have been steeply rising again in the past two weeks.

Or Vanthen, director of Kampong Speu provincial health department said currently most new COVID-19 cases are being found among factory workers.

“Until now, in total more than 800 people have been infected COVID-19. Most of them are factory workers, between 50 percent to 60 percent,” Vanthen said.

He said that among approximately 100 factories in the province, more than 10 have reported workers infected with COVID-19.

“The most effective measure is to strengthen the education of them,” said Vanthen.

Ou Sokhoeun, director of Svay Rieng provincial labor department said that among the 921 recorded cases, more than 400 of them are factory workers. In total, more than 3,000 factory workers who have come into contact with infected individuals have had to quarantine.

“The reason for infection is because they are in one place together where it is difficult to keep social distancing. They travel together, work together and eat together,” Sokhoeun said. “Most of the infected people are factory workers and casino staff.”

Last week, a video went viral reportedly showing garment workers running away from a factory in which a worker tested positive for COVID-19. Sokhoeun said after that incident, officials went to villages to educate and disseminate information on how to protect against COVID-19.

 Sokhoeun said that factories in the Svay Rieng Special Economic Zones, Shandong Sunshell SEZ, Tai Seng SEZ, and Manhattan SEZ  have reported COVID-19 infections.

“We do not have other measures because we think that Health Ministry’s measure is enough when we implement this measure,” Sokhoeun said, noting that workers have to wear masks, scan temperatures, and spray their hands with alcohol while transportation trucks have to sanitize the trucks before and after workers ride them. 

But Mann Seng Hak, vice president of the Free Trade Union of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said these measures will continue to fall short as long as workers have to take overcrowded vehicles and live in cramped homes.

 “If the authorities still do not have specific measures for them, they will face high risk of COVID-19 infection. I am very concerned about this issue” Seng Hak said.

“I requested the government to have strict health measures for factory workers,” Seng Hak said, adding that the government should speed up vaccinations of factory workers.

The Ministry of Health has recorded 31,460 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in early 2020. The large majority of these cases have been recorded since February 20 — when the ongoing community outbreak began. The ministry has also recorded 24,042 recovered cases and 230 deaths from the virus.